For most of my career I have worked with children and adolescents with behavioral challenges. Conducting group lessons–both in the classroom as well as in the speech room–can be daunting. Many of the interns I have supervised become frustrated with how to control behaviors, especially with adolescents who are not motivated by behavioral charts and tangible rewards.
A strategy I use that has been very effective is pretty simple: When the opportunity present itself, I take aside the key player in the group, a peer the other kids respect, and I ask: “Can you be the leader here?”
A lot of your success with this method is how you present yourself. I never tell the key player what to do; rather I ask for their input with questions such as: “What do you think about the group’s behavior?” How would you feel about_____? Do you think it’s a good idea to ______? How do you think ____ would feel if _______? Unless the key player asks me a specific yes/no question, I never tell him/her what to do.
Most of the kids I approach appreciate that I go to them with a problem, that I treat them as equals and as part of the solution. This also increases the child’s curiosity (see my post about this “Superhero” power) about both the problem and how to fix it. Suddenly the key player is not only thinking about themselves, but thinking about the group.
If I sit down with the key player and ask the question, “Can you be the leader here?”, it’s a moment packed with values. I’m asking the child to help me solve a problem. This is powerful message, packed into only six words, with a question mark at the end instead of a period. Asking someone to step up in a big way–rather than ordering them to step up–is almost always a smart way of controlling group behaviors.
How do you handle challenging group behaviors? Have you ever employed the help of a respected peer?